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ENGLAND: Palm Trees Grace Torquay : Palms Trees Grace the Sunny English Southwest

May 18, 1986|ELEANOR MORRIS | Morris is an Austin, Tex., free-lance writer.

TORQUAY, England — The British don't have to travel to Cannes or St. Tropez for palm trees and sunshine. They have their own British Riviera, a superb stretch of south Devon coast from Torquay to Dartmouth on the River Dart.

Torquay has its own palm-lined Promenade along the blue waters of the English Channel, warm and balmy during summer and the warmest part of the British Isles come winter.

Torquay and the charming towns of Paignton, with cliff walks for a panoramic view, and Brixham, where William of Orange landed to assume the British throne, are among England's most popular holiday resorts. The three towns form the Borough of Torbay, where beaches of sand and shingle, shops and water sports, fishing, golf and tennis form all the ingredients for a lovely holiday.

Sand, Cliffs and Coves

Dartmouth, harbor town below Brixham on the edge of wild Dartmoor, is just a short ride south along the Torquay Road. Devon's entire south coast is a wonderful mixture of red sandstone cliffs, pebble beaches, lovely bays and sheltered sandy coves. Plenty of fascinating places to visit and unusual things to do give a fascinating insight into how the British spend their holidays.

Be sure to pronounce Torquay, a lovely Mediterranean-type town, "Torky," or the British won't know what you mean. Exotic plants and palms unexpectedly thrive in this mild southwesterly climate. The palm-lined waterfront walk leads along a green park with fountains, flowers and a pavilion built in the wonderful British Raj architecture of Queen Victoria's time.

During the summer concerts, dances and other public entertainments are held in the pavilion, while daytimes, lazy holiday-makers loll about on the lawns. The boardwalk, facing the harbor filled with sailboats and yachts, is lined with multi-striped lawn chairs waiting for sunbathers.

For the energetic, there are other sights. Torre Abbey was founded in 1196 and remained church property until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539. Only ruins are there today, but the present 18th-Century building houses the Torbay Municipal Art Gallery and Museum, with collections of 17th-Century silver and 18th-Century glass.

Cultural Interests

Extensive formal gardens include a tropical palm house. (Torquay Sea Front, open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 1 to Oct. 31; weekends only from Nov. 1 to March 31, by appointment.)

Torquay Museum of Natural History has exhibits illustrating the natural history, archeology and folk life of Devon, with extinct animal remains from Torquay's famous Kent Caverns. (529 Babbacombe Road, open 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday to Saturday, March to October; Monday to Friday only, November to February.)

The British holiday maker evidently likes miniatures. A Model Village has thatched farmhouses, a lake and a waterfall, a modern town and a railroad (open summers from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; winter from 9 a.m. to dusk); Silvers Model World is a collection of moving model figures made by the Silvers family (in the historic Spanish Barn on the Torre Abbey Gardens grounds), and the Torbay Model Railroad and Torbay House Miniatures are in the Victorian Arcade by the harbor.

For sailors, Torbay Seaways Cruises offers Sunday afternoon band cruises, and excursions to the Channel Islands from Beacon Quay. Landlubbers' fun is the Victorian Evening at St. Marychurch Shopping precinct each Thursday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., June 21 to Aug. 30.

Compton Castle

Charming Paignton, whose bed-and-breakfast inns and boarding houses cater to summer regulars, is just south on the Torquay Road. Compton Castle there is the home of the Gilberts, descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh.

The fortified manor house, with restored Great Hall, dates from the 14th Century. (Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 30 to Oct. 31, other times by appointment; phone Kingskerswell 2112.)

Oldway House, a "miniature Versailles," was once the home of Sir Isaac Singer. The architecture is in the grand style, with a ballroom full of silver mirrors. Gardens designed by the French landscape artist Duchesne are extensive. (Torquay Road, open all year 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:15 to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays.)

Old and New Mix

Kirkham House, a fine example of 15th-Century architecture, has kept many features that show what a town house was like before the days of the Tudors. A timber doorway, cobbled inside passages and a roof-high bay are settings for exhibits of modern furniture made by local craftsmen.

(Kirkham Street off Cecil Road, open 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 2 to 6:30 p.m. Sundays, April to September.)

Paignton's not just old houses. The Torbay Trains, Robes, Roses and Aircraft Museum covers just about everything, including another model railroad. (Kenneth Moore Gardens, open all year, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. summer, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. winter.)

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